From the vaults – Ivy (26/09/2011)

dsc02577I’ve got this thing goin’ on but, unlike Billy Paul in the soul classic, mine isn’t with Mrs Jones; it’s with Ivy.

This ‘thing’ I refer to is a struggle for territorial supremacy; the prize for the winner being control of the garden. As things stand, I have the weapons, Ivy has the stamina, guile and resourcefulness and is battling me to a standstill. Soon the weather will drive me indoors for extended periods and hard-won gains will, meeting no resistance, be retaken. And there’s no accommodation to be had here; no reasoning with this stuff. If there were some means whereby I could concede a few larch-lap panels and maybe an expanse of wall, I’d happily sign a treaty and get on with my life. But Ivy is implacable: given the power of speech, my creeping nemesis would probably borrow a line from Star Wars: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Ivy has the edge when it comes to the mind games too: we are playing by different rules. My ambitions extend no further than containment; eradication has never been part of the agenda; it knows this, senses it as weakness and exploits it. Senses too the soft spot and grudging admiration I harbour for its tenacity, the shelter it provides for newly-fledged songbirds, and its role as a late source of pollen, lingering long beyond the point where colour has drained from most of the garden; providing sustenance for hard-working bees well into the autumn.
And there’s another thing – and this is no minor consideration – there are parts of the garden where it’s the only thing keeping the fence upright. It also knows that, and indulges the knowledge in silent mockery. Information is power.
Sometimes I’ll encounter Ivy in an altogether different, less adversarial, setting. A few days back for instance, following one of those mysterious paths you seem to find in all manner of places: distinct, obviously well walked yet, paradoxically, always completely deserted. There’s a point on this particular path where you step from deep woodland cover straight into open ground, defined only by low hedges. There’s no transition, no thinning of the tree line: you’re in the woods; take two paces and you’re in the open. The one link is the ivy, winding its way from the stunted, coppiced hawthorn hedges, around the trunks and lower branches of the woodland perimeter.
The noise from the industry of thousands of bees and hoverflies is as loud in this place as I have ever heard in any setting. The proximity of the woods seems to provide a natural echo chamber, amplifying the sound and, however long you might choose to pause there, the insects seem neither distracted or concerned by your presence.
I can’t really make up my mind about Ivy.

From the vaults: A few thoughts from the towpath (02/09/2011)

p1060246I spent some of my formative years around canals. Wretched affairs they mostly were too: stagnant, slow-moving, oil-slicked and rancid; anachronisms even then; relics of a way of life already in steady, irretrievable decline. Occasionally worked, invariably neglected, their banks and towpaths were places for chance meetings laden with promise, menace, sometimes both at once: for fights, spontaneous or pre-arranged; furtive sexual encounters (or stolen moments of romance – depending on your point of view); or for simply passing the time of day with a fellow traveller. The latter being nothing more than a euphemism for having a good old grumble: one of the many ways in which we made our own amusement back then.

By the time I’d reached school leaving age I’d probably seen enough miles of canal-side to last a rational person a lifetime. Fortunately I’d also discovered by then that there are canals and there are canals…

Walking a rural towpath at a quiet time puts me in mind of those science fiction films where time continuums (continua?) overlap; repeatedly cutting from blurred activity to slow motion sequence and back again. The water itself sets an unhurried background rhythm, quickened occasionally by the opening of a lock. It’s rare to find a boat moving at more than steady walking pace; livestock at the water’s edge will barely raise their heads to glance at passers-by. Similarly the heron; too transfixed on events below the surface to break its concentration.

p1060275It would be easy and, to be honest, not unpleasant to become lulled into a mild narcosis by the sedative effect of all this unhurried calm, were it not punctuated – usually unexpectedly – by the moments of abrupt activity: the flash of a kingfisher, the silvery turn of a shoal of fish, the sudden violence of a kestrel’s kill; the furtive dart of a too-quick-to-be-identified rodent. The event – already over – registers, and after a brief moment of surprise tranquility returns.